His flip phone lay on the hand-carved coffee table. No return call, but Davis was watching Luke on his laptop. He had e-mailed too, just to be thorough, his fourth try since leaving Los Angeles in August. No response; each effort progressively more difficult to make. The film was not all that bad, though. Davis could see why people felt strongly about it.
They had dyed his brother's hair reddish gold and set the top in the distinctive wave. His concave cheeks and square chin suited him well to the part. In many scenes, as the young-man-who-would-be-president aged, Luke wore subtle shadings of dark makeup around his eyes that lent them the aura of required gravitas, of suffering untold. The appearance of his eyes contrasted with the smile, which was the way Luke always had smiled: in a flash, brassy, ever so slightly mocking. They had done something with makeup to conceal the nick in his left eyebrow.
“There's nothing in the book about a situation like this,” said on-screen Luke. “A lot of you men have wives and some of you have children. What do you want to do? I have nothing to lose.” He was thin, he was tan. He stood disheveled in the sun on the shore of the island, hands and feet lined with fake blood applied so meticulously as to appear random, as to appear real.
It was his brother, the brother he had not spoken with since returning to St. Louis, and Davis could not help but look for clues to his well-being, even if this movie was over eight months out of date. Davis avoided paparazzi images like cold rain, would feel faint shivers and instantly click away whenever a picture of Luke popped out from some site he happened on: usually the pseudo-newsy homepage for an e-mail service crawling with distraction. Nothing more than advertisements, thought Davis, whether subtle or bald-faced, an illusion of intimacy for the lovelorn and grasping. Look at the new clothes the hot young actor's wearing! Look at the new locations he has visited! Hear the latest quip he made to a bank of cameras! All of it, so very old. Davis sprawled across the sofa in the empty basement of his childhood home, wearing corduroys with worn-out knees and a grunge-era flannel salvaged from a hanger in the closet upstairs. His laptop beamed its eerie blue light from the center of the coffee table. Replace Luke with any other actor and the headlines would sport the same manic tenor. They would advertise the same products.
The film itself: a product too, but only a product? The root of attention, prestige, nominations. Davis was willing now to see what was supposed to have been captured on screen. It looked new, this procession of images, even if cloaked
in styles and molds of the '40s, the war in the Pacific. As Luke delivered his lines in the distinctive accent, Davis thought, You think you're good, don't you, brother? Then, chastising himself for his own envy, Davis considered closing the laptop, which by the twenty-minute marker was whirring with worrying effort. But then Davis would do what, exactly? He was down for the night. In the house he had grown up in, and all by himself: his mother in her early fifties had a more lively social life than he did. There was only so much to do. He could not bring himself to touch the dusty video game console, tucked into the bottom drawer of the entertainment center. He could only go out drinking with Seth so many times, could only stand so much talk of current events, of how they guessed Mike was doing “over there,” based on the scant information Mike's e-mails provided: usually no more than the title of the right-wing geopolitical tract he was reading, how frustrated he was with the way the wars were being portrayed by “mainstream media outlets + other purveyors of leftist bias,” and always how proud he was of his men. The primary news that e-mails from Mike carried was that Mike was doing okay, which, giving the comfort it did, still prompted a question of Davis, one that he did not want to explore all that deeply: was Davis doing okay?
He had hit a rough patch in Los Angeles, no denying it, and that rough patch had both surprised him and seemed, in retrospect, fairly inevitable. Moving to Hollywood had not been his idea to begin with, and what compelled him to seize it, he found, at a remove, difficult to say. Simply the excitement of what was happening with Luke: first the TV appearances, then the sitcom, then the movies. The attention Luke drew to himself just by being, and how that had, at first, seemed to include Davis, the excitement, the unlikelihood, each passing minute fluttering with the weight of dust on a butterfly's wings. Different personalities, yes, but related by blood. In part, Luke was Davis, Davis felt, and Davis was, if he had to admit it, yes, it had become more apparent with time, in part, Luke. No man an island, the crux of that Paul Simon song. Their family had splintered, their father dropping off the grid. Luke, at twenty, suddenly was possessed of greater wherewithal than their father ever had known, and if it were as simple for Luke to choose to live the way he did, then why not Davis too?
Davis had grown to depend on his younger brother for casual banter about bold-print names, the perceived admittance it granted him to the stage Luke and his costars occupied. Even in the office where Davis worked, a production company specializing in comic book franchises, he could see how he had been regarded more as Luke Gambier's brother than as his own man. Now, Davis watched the film, Survival, for clues to what had been growing inside Luke, the hidden aspects of his personality shaping up beneath the surfaces Davis had taken for granted on arriving in LA, such surfaces being, apparently, all that Davis had, the only explanation for why Davis had been doing what he had been doing with his life.
During the love scene thirty minutes into the film, Davis did not see Jack and Inga, but his brother and an actress in a blond wig, a girl they both had
watched grow up before their eyes on a teenage serial drama. Today, she was a professed Scientologist. Did she kiss like a Scientologist?
The actors knocked over a lamp in their enthusiasm, and Luke, examining the wreckage, plucked out a small wire. “They've been following me,” said the actress playing Inga. “This damnable war. As a foreign national, I'm afraid I'm suspect.”
“Well, ah, hello to whoever's listening!” said Luke, doing the voice. “Say, hello, Inga.” “Hello, Inga!” said the actress. What kind of small talk did Luke make with her between takes? I will put my hand here; you put your hands there; I will conceal your body like this; you don't need to conceal me at all.
Was Luke, at present, on better terms with her than he was with his own brother? Did he return her calls? When Luke, at the controls, threw the engine on the PT boat into gear too quickly, the shot closed on his face realizing with horror that the Japanese destroyer would split his stalled craft in two. Davis asked himself if Luke could begin to approach the knowledge of what that might feel like: forces so much greater than he was, coming down with unforgiving fury. But critics praised this moment. A moment of substance, they wrote. They did not see fakery: they saw Jack, privilege gone in a snap, fear and raw determination laid bare as he screamed to the crew: “Grab your nuts!”
They saw Jack in the explosion's aftermath, adrift on the still-floating bow, recognizing the loss of Kirksey, the boy who had seen his own doom written in the stars. They saw Jack cracking grim homespun jokes for his struggling crewmates as they paddled through the black waters—probably a North Hollywood water tank. They saw Jack as he assessed the gravity of Mcmahon's burns and took Mcmahon onto his back, swimming with the strap of the other man's life-vest between his teeth.
They saw Jack the next day setting out from the island where his crew had taken refuge and venturing alone into the channel in search of rescue, life-vest keeping him afloat, a lantern wrapped in another vest and held out in front of him. They felt his awareness of the heavy sea creatures moving in the water beneath his paddling feet, the chance of a fatal encounter with the Japanese omnipresent, the sound of his inhalations, his exhalations, all there was in that instant of Jack Kennedy. He could have disappeared in a blink.
They saw Jack with his instinct for improvisation carving out the message on the coconut and handing it over to native scouts. No matter that it was Leonard Thom whose actions ultimately led to the crew's rescue—the burly actor playing Thom reminded Davis of his and Luke's elementary school PE teacher—it was Jack's crudely carved coconut that would be written up in published accounts of the events. It was Jack who would be the star.
They saw Jack after the rescue expressing his grief at the loss of those entrusted to his command and they saw him go against his ambassador father's
expressed wishes that he be removed from harm's way, even as his health betrayed him and pounds dropped from Jack's—davis's brother's—frame. When he finally was forced to take his leave, he weighed forty pounds less than when he had arrived. “A team of horses couldn't get him to report to sick bay,” said the actor playing Lenny Thom, watching Jack board a plane. Luke's appearance, Davis could see now, verged on the skeletal.
On his first day back in the states, a rail-thin Jack visited Inga in Hollywood. She was seeing another man, a doctor who worked on movie sets. She invited both men to her apartment. They spoke about football. Jack shook the doctor's hand. “Farewell, Inga,” he said, standing with his bothersome back held straight, features impassive through the pain, emotion pressing the surface of his greenishgray eyes. “Be good, Jack,” she said. When the story of Jack's heroism was published, most of the errors its star had made were sifted from the account. On an airbase in England, Jack's older brother Joseph, the celebrated athlete, erstwhile bully, and straight-man to his younger brother's blasé wisecracking, read the pages. Jack had become in real life what the boys played at being as children. Almost immediately, Joe passed up a chance to return to the US, having completed the requisite thirty-five sorties, to volunteer in a fit of umbrage for another mission so dangerous as to be effectively suicidal. They would load a giant Liberator aircraft with explosives and Joe would fly it with another pilot toward the German V2 armaments on the French coast. They would abandon the Liberator and its fatal load just beyond the coast of Kent, leaving the plane to remote control guidance, and, once it struck France, a proven threat to London would be wiped from the map. Like that: poof. The risk was extreme; the payoff, undying glory. Davis studied the willpower on the famous actor's face—the indie performer he had observed a few years ago clasping hands with his brother at a protest against the Iraq War in downtown La—the sweat Joe wiped from his forehead on the cold night, the pinched lips, the glaring eyes burning with knowledge that by all rights a hero's status ought to belong to him. The Liberator left the ground in England with its cargo hold of Torpex explosives. The two pilots looked at one another, each taking comfort in the example of the other's imperviousness. A plane flying behind them harbored the remote control device, while a TV camera attached to the Liberator's hull transmitted what lay ahead. “Good picture!” came the voice over the radio. Joe nodded and waited twenty seconds. “Still getting good picture?” he asked. “Still getting good picture!” The British coastline appeared. They no longer were controlling the plane. Joe left his copilot up front. The Torpex lay in orderly stacks, gray canister on top of canister. A green tarp partially covered the cans and on the tarp in squiggly white-painted letters, a message for the Germans: Collect on delivery, Mr. Schickelgruber.
He kneeled over the switch to arm the explosives. “This better be wired right,” Joe called to the front, “or we'll have one helluva headache.” The plane droned onward. It didn't seem as if his copilot had heard him.
Then, grinning, Joe said as much to himself as to anybody: “Grab your nuts.” And like that. Joseph Sr. broke the news to his gathered family on the porch in Hyannis Port. Jack strode the beach alone, the brother in whose shadow he had always moved dispersed in the air. Not a trace of him was found. It was Jack whom his siblings would look up to now.
“I sometimes wonder whether I ever really knew him,” narrated Luke, in voiceover, a letter to Jack's cherished sister after the military funeral. “He always had a slight detachment from things around him—a wall of reserve few people ever succeeded in penetrating.”
In the months ahead, Jack bonded with Lenny Thom, safely home from the Pacific. Lenny Thom of small-town Ohio, a guy who turned down a professional football contract with the Chicago Bears to serve his country in its hour of need. Lenny made two trips to Hyannis Port in the company of his newlywed wife, Kate, during the summer of '44. The Kennedy cottage impressed them, the raw beauty and manicured shrubbery. Kate felt, when Jack addressed her, as if he had always known her and Lenny. Some of the other Navy guys were there too. Jack's health notwithstanding, he tossed a football with Lenny and the rest, including Teddy, age eleven. “Lenny's a swell guy!” said Teddy, as the players took a lemonade break. “I'd never have made it home without him,” said Jack. Later that night, the Navy guys and Kate got to drinking Scotch on the lawn. Everyone felt good, gazing out on the horizon, the lulling rhythm of the waves, a world away from the brutal sun and thirst and desolate hours in the Pacific. Lenny and Jack entertained the group with bawdy stories. “Cover your ears, darling,” said Lenny to Kate with a big, teasing smile. Their laughter became a creature in itself, expansive, drawing in the stillness of the setting around them and fizzing it up. Then a window thudded open on the second story of the house and they heard the Ambassador call into the night, “Jack, can't you show some respect for your dead brother?”
Lenny glanced at his friend with concern. Barney Ross winced, trying to hide the smirk on his face, the incongruousness of the old man's intrusion on what had been, only a moment before, carefree conviviality. Jack, showing only a flicker of upset, brushed off his father's crabbing: “Ah, well. He doesn't like the sound of anyone else having a good time.”
Kate kissed Lenny a little while later, then retired to a guest room. The other guys left in turn until it was just Jack and Lenny in the moonlight, lieutenant and XO, off-duty, all rank forgotten.
Jack said a few words about Joe Jr., his father's grief. There was his own grief, too, of course. He felt he had to be strong for his siblings.
“Once will be enough,” said Lenny, crickets chirping in the shrubbery, the
moon as bright in the sky as it was absent the night of PT 109's crash. “Peace must be lasting and complete this time.” Jack nodded at his friend. Lenny was not out of the service yet, but after a few more rotations among bases, he returned with Kate to Youngstown in January of 1946. They bought a house for themselves and their baby. Jack, meanwhile, initiated a run for Congress in Massachusetts with help from the Ambassador. To get ahead, Lenny was pursuing a master's degree in Columbus while also working at the office of a local insurer. He commuted by automobile between Columbus and his home in Youngstown, covering the distance every night of the week. Sometimes he made the drive alone, sometimes with other guys, and invariably after dark. Some of the guys knew of Lenny's part in the famous PT-109 survival tale, his friendship with Jack Kennedy, and they would ask about it. Lenny, behind the wheel, obliged with a grin.
October: in full swing on the campaign trail, Jack received a call from Ohio. Lenny Thom had been in an accident on the railroad tracks. He and his two passengers had not made it. The clamor of the room faded around Jack. “Well, that's terrible. Just terrible. How was—did he . . .” Jack groped for words. At the funeral, he learned from the Thom family that Lenny had been conscious when paramedics arrived, telling them to look after “the other fellows” first.
While delivering a speech before the American Legion in Charlestown the following week, Jack lost his composure attempting to say, “No greater love has a man than he who gives up his life for his brother.” It was only a line in a speech, one he had delivered many times, but he could not bring himself to continue.
He left the podium and ducked away from the crowd, waving off aides. In private, he allowed himself, briefly, the luxury of tears, and Davis too was crying as he watched the film. “I'm twenty-nine years old,” Jack said to his father, “and I have already lost two brothers.” He went on to win the race for elected office. The film ended with a series of epilogue cards, noting Senator Kennedy's first meeting with Jacqueline Bouvier at a small dinner party and how the coconut and its fateful message followed him all the way to the White House, where it occupied a prominent position on his desk.
Davis wiped his eyes on a flannel sleeve. The stupid movie had had its way with him. Of course it was going to be sad. They pulled on the heartstrings and then suddenly all the artifice felt like something real and not a put-on by a lot of clever pretenders. He doubted if his brother even knew the first thing about Jack Kennedy before signing on to play the part. English was the only course he had shown any aptitude for in high school, and nobody told you very much in English class about Jack Kennedy. Maybe they had educated him on set, or he had educated himself. Anyway, no one chose Luke for his knowledge. He was a hot property. He passably looked the part.
As the credits rolled, bagpipes of “The Barren Rocks of Aden” transitioning to the Beach Boys' “The Warmth of the Sun,” Davis heard the door to the garage. Footfalls sounded on the first floor and then the door to the basement
whined open, his mother's voice extending into the darkness: “Anyone here?”
“Downstairs,” said Davis, composing himself. He closed the DVD window on his laptop, but could not make it to the light panel before Dorothy reached the bottom of the basement steps.
She flipped the switch. “Watching something?” she asked with a wry turn to her mouth.
“Oh, a movie,” said Davis. The blank case for the awards mailer Luke had sent to the house lay open on the carpet. “So,” said Dorothy. “You hadn't seen it yet?” “Nope.” “And what did you think?” She stood at the foot of the steps, wearing a blue jacket and a necklace with layers of golden petals. Her hair had gone grayer of late, or she had let it, but her figure remained slim. She was constantly moving. “It's all right,” said Davis. “Not bad.” “You watched on your laptop?” said Dorothy. “Why not the flatscreen?” She glanced at the blank wall unit to her left. “Nobody ever uses it.”
“I don't know,” said Davis, looking at it as if it might offer him a reason. “I guess I didn't want Luke's head getting too big.” “Very funny.” “Didn't think I was going to watch all the way through.” “Did you have a chance to read the script when you were out there?” “No.” “Oh, I thought maybe—” “I know what you thought.” “Do you imagine it will win any of the awards?” “Sure, why not? But I doubt Luke has a chance.” “Do you want him to win?” “Why not?” “Well, that's what matters. Of course it's a thrill just to have been nominated.” “Mom, are you going to write his speech for him?” Dorothy did not take the bait. “I loved it, you know. Samuel, too. I think it's great they finally made a movie about Kennedy, the man. Not all the yucky fetishizing of his death.”
They had fallen into the film's trap, thought Davis, talking about the advertised subject and not the more obvious one: the lives of the players behind it. Luke, specifically. Davis did not like feeling he was a dupe. Dorothy looked at her son hopefully, as if considering the man he might become, and he felt suddenly embarrassed by his clothes and the fact that he was slouching on a sofa in the basement at twenty-five years of age. They were discussing a piece of entertainment and at the same time a marker in his younger brother's professional rise, one of four films he had starred in over the past year. Sensing Davis's discomfort and wishing to set him at ease, Dorothy asked, “Would you like to watch something else? From one of the dish channels?”
“I didn't think you'd be back tonight.” “Well, I drop by every few days. To check and see you haven't burned the place down.” “So you trust me, then.” “I trust you. Despite your penchant for sitting alone in the dark. Like your father.”
“I've been trying to get ahold of Luke, you know. It's Dad's sixtieth on the twenty-fourth. I thought I'd drive up to Michigan.” “That's not a short trip.” “I haven't seen Dad in person since college graduation.” “He doesn't reach out much.” “Just like Luke,” said Davis. “He has different reasons.” “Sure he does.” “I don't know how he is spending his days.” “Have you heard anything?” “Like you, I know he bought a house. I hear he keeps working on it.” “You haven't spoken with him?” Davis asked. “Your father? No. Not in years. I e-mail his sister for updates.” “You never worry about him?” “He takes care of himself.” “I thought Luke should join me for the trip.” “It's a nice idea. But you know Luke's very busy.” “It's like `Cat's in the Cradle.'” “What's that?” “Ah, never mind. You don't know it.” “I beg your pardon, I most certainly do.” “You know, cat's in the cradle with the silver spoon, little boy blue and the man on the moon . . .” “Yes. And?” “Like the situation it describes. That's the same as Luke and Dad.” “I wouldn't say he was perfect, but you don't think he was an attentive father?” “He had his moments.” “Then the song doesn't really match, does it? Besides, it's just a song.” “Always looking for the easy answers, aren't I?” “Don't put yourself down. There's no need to emphasize the negative side of things.” “Glad we could have this conversation, Mom.” “I tried.” “You have a way of making me feel like I'll be fifteen years old for the rest of my life.”
“Going by what you're wearing, I'd say you may be at least partially responsible.”
“What did you just say about not putting myself down?” “I never said nobody else shouldn't.” Before he got into bed, Davis sent Luke another e-mail from his laptop. p.s. watched your Kennedy. Nice work, bro. It would be 10 p.m. in Los Angeles. Luke was probably out somewhere.
Davis lay in bed for a while without drifting off. During a scene at the beginning of Survival, the Kennedy children watch war movies in their childhood home. Joseph Sr., a securities trader and bootlegger, had purchased one of the first entertainment centers in the world, a projector and screen. Davis thought of them watching all those movies just as he and Luke had watched all those movies, just as probably most of America had watched all those movies since way back. In his dream later on, Davis was flying a plane with his mother as copilot. He was freaking out, saying he knew there were explosives in the back; his heart pounded. She told him not to worry. This plane is going to go up in smoke, Davis swore. She laughed. She did not believe him. He left her at the controls and went to look in the cargo hold. A line of prisoners in manacles stared back at him, dead-eyed. Davis startled awake. The sun had not risen yet. He checked his e-mail. Nothing from Luke. He returned to bed and fell asleep again, dreaming of nothing.
Shortly after 10 a.m., Davis awoke on his stomach. Light streamed underneath the drawn curtains. He showered, dressed in an old sweater and khakis, then checked his e-mail again.
Dorothy was scrambling eggs and eyed Davis warily as he stalked over to the kitchen table. “Good morning to you,” she said. “Would you care for eggs and toast?” “Please.” She went about removing eggs from their carton. The sizzle of butter filled the room. The temperature looked brisk outdoors. Bare branches wavered in the breeze. Dorothy slid a plate for Davis across the kitchen counter. “And butter for the toast,” she said. “Or would you prefer margarine?” “Peanut butter,” said Davis. “I usually have peanut butter.” “I think we have some around here.” “That's okay. Butter's fine.” Dorothy opened a cabinet above her. “No, look, here we go. Peanut butter. Half a jar.” “Guessing that's expired?” “It's right where your father left it.” She gave a short, sad laugh. “I never felt there was any sense in throwing things away that still have use. This, though . . .” “I'll have butter, Mom, thanks.” Dorothy sat at the head of the table nearest the family room, her position when the Gambiers had dined as a family. Davis was in the seat that used to be his, facing the door to the family room and the printer's type-case filled with knickknacks on the wall. The seat Luke used to occupy faced the kitchen counter and the cooking area beyond it. The small television Davis's father long ago installed had disappeared without a trace.
“So, how was your night?” asked Davis. “We went out in the Central West End, a new Italian place. Their toasted ravioli was first-rate, but the service a bit strange. They kept asking us if we would like another bottle of Pinot Grigio. With one there on the table! We are slow drinkers. I thought the waiter might have been on something. A nice-looking young man but more animated than is really usual. Samuel thought so too.”
Davis had yet to have a real man-to-man with Samuel, who nevertheless registered as energetic, quick-witted, and keenly attentive to Dorothy. On finishing his meal, Davis found his mother gazing at him.
“You know, I haven't asked you very much about what happened out there,” she said. “Or what your plan is. I don't want to be That Mother. I'm through being That Mother. But, you know, you can't go on living here indefinitely. Or you could. Only I am serious about selling the house. Samuel and I really will be moving to Florida.” “You don't think Luke will want to buy the place?” “Luke? Are you joking?” “Make a museum out of it?” “That's not really very funny.” “I'm going to Michigan. Then I'll see what's next.” “Sounds like you're giving the trip a lot of meaning.” “I should, shouldn't I?” “I don't know what kind of shape your father's in, Davis.” After washing the dishes, Davis put on an old wool coat and set the garagedoor to rising, the clamoring rumble that had transfixed him when he was a child. There was only one car in the garage now. Davis's Jetta waited in the driveway, front bumper askew. Dorothy had asked him why he didn't park it inside. He felt uncomfortable doing that. He couldn't explain why. She said he was being silly. The birds would ruin the paint. “It's winter,” Davis had said. “How many birds are there?”
There were a few birds. Crows, it looked like. Without thinking about where he was going, Davis strolled out into the street, then glanced back. It was a house on a suburban block, a few properties away from the cul-de-sac. Aside from the gray coating of paint in a neighborhood with no other gray houses, it was more or less exactly the same as most of the others in the subdivision, and, in fact, built more or less exactly on the same template as many others in suburban St. Louis County. The floor plan mirrored that in Roshan's house where Davis had visited many times as a child. Roshan's mother was a surgeon and never around, his father stay-at-home with the occasional marketing venture, selling chinaware or vitamin pills over the telephone. A world of difference from the den-to-den dynamic in effect at the Gambier home, yet the floor plans were mirror images. Davis turned over the cell phone in the pocket of his coat as if it might be a charm of some kind.
He walked to the end of the cul-de-sac. His lips numbed in the breeze and
his cheeks prickled. A path behind the final house led into the woods and Davis followed it as he and Luke had so many times in the past. Down the way, through the bare trees, he reached the creek, the ground sloping sharply, creating a tiny basin. A pine bridge spanned the gap to the place where the ground climbed again. An old oak had fallen during recent months, also spanning the basin, its roots swirling in a tangle on the far bank. Back when they were children, they found this place magical, the setting for numberless fantasies. There was always a war and Davis had to get his guys from one side to the other—neighborhood playmates or, later on, schoolmates, guarding against the advance. Cowboys versus Indians, Earthlings versus Aliens, Americans versus Russians, Autobots versus Decepticons. Uncertainty about the opposing sides only crept in with time. As a child, he felt all that was needed to chase it away was clarity of voice, the confidence and good health to call out as loudly as possible. Luke always had followed Davis. He followed him even when he was too small to play without falling over his own feet. “Play on your own!” Davis remembered shouting one day until Luke, in tears, stomped back to the house, Davis later to be reprimanded by their mother.
In due time, Luke announced that he no longer wanted to play war games. This was Dorothy's influence. Years later, as a high school baseball player prior to his knee injury, Davis brought small groups to the woods to drink. Two flashlight beams cut through the trees one night as the group chattered on the bank. Branches snapped and a radio squawked and off they ran up the trail, everybody following Davis's lead. “The cops, the cops, fucking 5-0!” A thrill, as if in continuation of those boyhood games, but this time with real opposition, the possibility of actual consequences. But, then, wasn't that kind of bullshit really? Roshan had gotten a DUI one night junior year, it's true, but his parents paid to have it fixed.
The real opponent was rarely if ever discussed. Senior year, some of the guys would go to a strip club across the river, which was about as close as anyone came to taking account of urban blight, it seemed to Davis. He went once with a fake ID and saw bruises on the women's arms and thighs. “Brighten up,” said Seth. “Don't think so much!” Senior year. His knee in a brace. All he could do that spring was think. For a long time afterwards, years in fact, Davis had succeeded at not thinking. It was possible not to think as long as everything that happened lined up with expectations. But when events took a different turn, thinking could not be dodged. Maybe that was a good thing, though it didn't necessarily feel good.
He flipped open his phone and scrolled to Luke's name. The ring sounded. It would be around 9 a.m. in LA. Chances were Luke wasn't up yet. The phone would be there next to his bed. What ringtone did he have now?
Davis waited and, instead of hanging up, began to leave a message. “It's a great fucking movie, okay?” he said. “I'm impressed, impressed as hell. Okay? I'm here, at home, I mean, the house, and the truth, you know, is it's just . . . Mom's going to sell it. For real. I know it's just a house. It didn't feel that way
when we were in it. I know it's just a house, and you've got to picture me here, in the basement, all by my lonesome, getting emotional about Jack Kennedy in this house in the suburbs where you grew up, where I grew up. For real. Feeling proud of you. More proud than you'd believe. It's life and I'm living it and I'm proud to be your brother.”
Davis ended the call. Where had that come from? The trees swayed overhead. His voice had risen in earnestness the longer the message ran on. He felt as though he were fighting to keep a grip on something slippery and rocking beneath him. In the creek bed, refuse lay all around, empty plastic containers no one ever bothered retrieving. He did not know what he would do for the rest of the afternoon. He thought he should probably head back. His phone rang. Luke's morning voice. “Hey,” he said.